French Bishops: “Respect Gay Relationships, Support Civil Unions, Reject Homophobia”

In a fascinating document on a Catholic response to French proposals for equal marriage, the country’s have strongly opposed the proposals – but called for constructive dialogue, recognized the value of loving and committed same – sex relationships, proposed strengthening and expanding the existing PACS system of civil unions, and firmly rejected homophobia.

Conference of bishops, France

One of the tragic features of so much of Vatican and episcopal responses to marriage equality, is that it has too often been couched in language so extreme, or made such outlandish and completely unsubstantiated claims, that it is too easy to dismiss it as being on the outer fringes of crazy town – and has left little room for serious, constructive debate. If the Church really does want us, as gay or lesbian Catholics, to be refused equal treatment under law for civil marriage – what else do they propose? Is there nothing else for us, other than lonely and solitary lives in total celibacy and abstinence? The Lord says in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone”, and Paul writes that “It is better for man to marry than to burn” – yet for the most part, the Catholic Church in its public pronouncements, gives the impression that these lines just do not apply to those with a same -sex affectional orientation.

There have been some exceptions. One of the few silver linings in the dark cloud of the recent Vatican onslaught on marriage, is that the attacks have been specifically on extending to us the word “marriage”, while refraining from attacks on our relationships themselves. As a tactical device, some bishops have notably even supported civil partnerships or civil unions, which they had previously opposed, as a more palatable alternative to full marriage equality. The Portuguese bishops were the first to do so publicly, in their unsuccessful attempt to prevent gay marriage. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has stated that he can see value in civil unions. And in New Hampshire, after the GOP gained control of the state legislature two years ago and announced plans to repeal marriage equality laws, the Catholic bishops announced their support for replacing it with civil unions – which they had previously opposed.

 This latest move by the French bishops is part of a trend – but in fact, it goes further – much further, and deserves close attention. Typically for the linguistically challenged Anglophone press, the document has been largely unreported in English and American press and websites. Where it has been picked up in the orthotoxic Catholic press, as at Lifesite News, it is not surprising that the reaction has been one of outrage. As Colkoch reported last week at Enlightened Catholicism:

Hmmm, seems like the French hierarchy are not all on the same page when it comes to homosexuals and homosexual unions.  Here’s an article about this conflict as posted on one of my favorite UberCatholic propaganda sites, LifeSiteNews.  There appears to be a group of bishops whose secular approach to the issue of gay civil unions has the Catholic sin police all upset. Be sure to check out the comments after the article.  They make one proud to be a cafeteria Catholic.


When it comes to gays, our French Temple Police have now decided it’s in the best interest of gay Catholics to ban them from even the ‘near occasion’ of sin, therefore even chaste gay relationships can not be legally approved.  After all, those ‘chaste’ relationships can never be proven to be chaste. One would have to take the word of those chaste gay Catholics seriously and being already disordered in an intrinsic way, that is apparently too big a leap for any self respecting self proclaimed Faithful Catholic.  Just as an aside, I sometimes wish I was a self proclaimed True Catholic because I find it much easier to mind everyone else’s morality than to adequately deal with my own, but unfortunately, I’ve moved past that trap.

via Enlightened Catholicism.

So – what have the French bishops actually said? The full document is available (in French) at conférence des évêques de France, conseil famille et societe. I admit to being somewhat linguistically challenged myself, but have some basic reading knowledge of French, which I have used to edit, for my own use, a Googletranslate version into more readable English. (If any reader can track down a sound English translation, I’ll be grateful).

Based on my reading, these are the features of the document that make it really worth careful attention:

  • the simple fact of a call for constructive dialogue – together with a genuine attempt to begin it.
  • a firm rejection of homophobia in any form, and insistence on respect for all
  • a call to listen attentively to the concerns and needs of homosexual people themselves
  • thoughtful attention to the findings of science, leading to -
  • the recognition of the value of loving and committed same – sex partnerships.
  • an acknowledgement of the value of the symbolism in marriage, and the weaknesses of civil union legislation.
  • a proposal to strengthen the existing civil unions legislation, to improve the symbolic value, and repair its weaknesses.

Each of these deserves closer analysis, which I hope to get to “soon” – but probably not in the next few days. (I have a chaotic schedule through to Sunday).

Stay tuned – I’ll get there.

(UPDATE, Sunday 27th:

The full text of the bishops’ document is now available in a reliable translation at Bilgrimage. I offer grateful thanks to Bill Lindsey, for offering this invaluable service.)




(All links are to Amazon, UK).

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994)412 pages

Heyward, Carter:   Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage(Univ of Chicago Press)

Jordan, Mark D.Meghan T. Sweeney, and David M. Mellott, editors.Authorizing Marriage?: Canon, Tradition, and Critique in the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kamitsuka, Margaret D: The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires, and Sexuality in Christianityy Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Lamp, Walter: Biblical Sex, What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say About Sex and Marriage

McNaught, Brian: On Being Gay: Thoughts on Family, Faith, and Love (St Martin’s Press, 1988)

McNeill, John: Sex As God Intended  Lethe Press, 2008 

Schinnick, Maurice: This Remarkable Gift: Being Gay and Catholic (Allen & Unwin, 1998)

Spong, John Shelby. Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality Harper & Row.

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality(Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival(Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con 

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible



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